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10-15 minutes (can be extended if desired)


Primary / Junior / Intermediate


Bible(s), paper, drawing or painting materials, mirror


To help students identify what certain emotions look like based on facial expressions

  • Read with students a parable and discuss the emotions of the characters in the story. (See examples of parables in “Supplementary resources”.)
  • Ask students to choose a character from the parable and identify their emotion.
  • Ask students to mimic the emotion using facial expressions and have others in the class guess the emotion/character they are imitating.
  • Remember to consider the context in which the emotion is being expressed. For example, when yelling, a person can be happy (if at a sporting event), angry (if in a disagreement) or neutral (trying to tell something to someone far away). 
  • Lead a follow-up discussion:
    • Are some emotions easier or more difficult to demonstrate/recognize than others? Why?
    • Why is it important to be able to recognize someone’s emotions based on their facial expressions?
    • Are there other ways of identifying a person’s emotions?

Examples of parables:

  • The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32)
  • The Good Samaritan (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-31)
  • The Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12–14)
  • Luke (Luke 15:3–7)
  • The Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14)
  • The practice can be extended by encouraging students to talk about ways to manage strong emotions (e.g., things they can do, things the teacher can do to help).
  • Have students look through old magazines or online articles/pictures to identify emotions that are demonstrated by facial expressions (e.g., find a picture of someone who is smiling to demonstrate ‘happy’).
  • Have students work in groups to create an emotions collage.
  • Have a bowl with basic emotions (happy, sad, scared, angry, jealous etc.) filled out on pieces of paper, or a list that they can choose from. Ask each student or pair to pick an emotion.
    • In pairs, a student demonstrates the facial expression associated with the emotion they chose, while the other student draws their partner’s facial expression. Partners can switch roles after a set amount of time.
    • If working individually, students can use the mirror to imitate the facial expression associated with the emotion they chose and draw their facial expression.
    • Have the class guess the emotions being expressed in the portraits.

Children proficiently recognize emotional expressions, and they increasingly use emotional information to understand their environment, and navigate social interactions with their peers, as they get older (Batty & Taylor, 2006). The extent to which students understand emotions in themselves, and others, is highly related to the quality of their peer interactions, and their propensity to engage in prosocial behaviours (Caputi, Lecce, Pagnin, & Banerjee, 2012).

Batty, M., & Taylor, M. J. (2006). The development of emotional face processing during childhood. Developmental Science, 9(2), 207-220. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7687.2006.00480.x

Caputi, M., Lecce, S., Pagnin, A., & Banerjee, R. (2012). Longitudinal effects of theory of mind on later peer relations: The role of prosocial behavior. Developmental Psychology, 48(1), 257.

Jesus calls us to listen. Through implicit and explicit ways of listening, we gain a deeper sense of empathy and the various ways in which we communicate our thoughts, feelings and emotions.

(2e) An effective communicator who uses and integrates the Catholic faith tradition, in the critical analysis of the arts, media, technology and information systems to enhance the quality of life.

Self-regulation and well-being: to develop thinking and feelings, and recognition of and respect for differences in the thinking and feelings of others